Life Audit

An Abundance of Riches

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M. Diane Vogt Tampa, Fla. based lawyer Diane Vogt is a principal at PeopleWealth, a consulting firm devoted to improving job satisfaction for lawyers. She is the co author of the ABA published Keeping Good Lawyers: Best Practices to Create Career Satisfaction.

VITAL STATISTICS Lindsey Hazelton POSITION Partner, Hancock & Estabrook, Syracuse, N.Y. AGE 32 GOAL Learning to strike a balance between work and home

If fortune could be measured by opportunity, then Lindsey Hazelton would be a very wealthy woman.

The 32-year-old lawyer counts herself lucky to be working at a firm she where she both respects and admires her colleagues and gets to handle a variety of interesting employment law matters. She also has no complaints about her personal life. Happily married for 10 years, Hazelton has a 2-year-old son whom she proclaims to be the love of her life, and she also is thinking about having a second child.

Yet Hazelton is finding that the sheer abundance of good things in her life has become stressful. Although she’s embarrassed to admit it, she sometimes feels that, despite all that she has, there is something missing. Exactly what that something is, however, she does not know. “I like every aspect of my life,” she says. “But I do not know what the ideal situation is.”

Like other working mothers, Hazelton is struggling to strike that perfect balance–and finding the formula elusive. She likes her work too much to consider giving up any aspect of her professional life. Yet she also can’t help wondering if she is missing out on some of those once in a lifetime moments with her son because she doesn’t stay home.

She also wants to spend more time with her husband and has a host of personal projects at home that have lingered unfinished for far too long for her comfort. In a perfect world, she’d be able to exercise regularly and still find time to work on her photo albums and decorating.

“It’s the ‘me’ time that I do not have,” Hazelton explains. “That is why I sometimes feel anxious or tense at the end of the day. I do not know what the solution is.”

Few other professional working mothers have the answer either, says Life Audit work life balance expert M. Diane Vogt. “Lindsey’s situation is not odd or unusual in any way from the situations that many other women and mothers in legal careers have. But lots of women think that their situation is wildly different.”

Finding Your Own Answers

When it comes to striking the perfect work life balance, there is no one size fits all solution. Instead, Hazelton needs to think about what will make her own life more in balance for herself, Vogt says.

Vogt urges her to think about that balance through a different perspective, one that divides life into stages.

Vogt says that Hazelton’s personal and professional lives are converging at the same time: She just became a partner at her law firm, her marriage is maturing, and she is a new mother. These forces have combined to where Hazelton’s life is “starting to get in the way of her career.”

“Part of it is a function of her age; she got married and decided to have a family. And all of a sudden, she started taking on all of the new challenges,” Vogt says. To handle these challenges, Vogt wants Hazelton to take a step back and look at them objectively in order to figure out what kind of changes she can make in her day to reduce her anxiety. “It helps to understand that this is the stage you are in, and it will pass,” Vogt says. “But where it will pass and how you get through to the next stage is something you have to think about.”

One area where Vogt sees a need for change is with child care. Currently, Hazelton has assembled a hodgepodge of options, including a part time sitter and preschool for her son. However, Hazelton sometimes finds herself in the role of backup baby sitter.

Vogt wants Hazelton to instead find a full time baby sitter or reliable backup help. To help ease the stress of hiring a new baby sitter, Vogt tells Hazelton to first ask her current baby sitter to extend her hours and take on more responsibilities. If her sitter can’t be part of the solution, then Hazelton must find someone who fills her needs and makes her life easier.

Hazelton also needs to rethink her involvement in several local civic and charitable groups. She serves in leadership positions in several groups and has contemplated cutting back her involvement. However, it’s a tough decision for her because she not only enjoys her work, but also sees the groups as having business development opportunities. Vogt says that Hazelton can solve some of these issues by taking a hard look at how she wants her job and community involvement to fit into this stage of her life.

Hazelton is fortunate to work at a firm that she sees as supportive and nurturing. Vogt says firms like hers often are willing to provide alternative work schedules to help their lawyers get through the more trying stages of their lives and keep them at the firm in the long run.

Vogt urges Hazelton to explore the options that might be available to her at work. “Your children are only small once. You want to enjoy them and spend time with them because if you didn’t, you would not have them in the first place. You do not want to lose that aspect of their lives. But, at the same time, you cannot build your life around them,” Vogt says.

Don’t Let Ideals Ruin Your Day

Hazelton also needs to draw some boundaries at home, Vogt says. Hazelton knows that her desire to have an Ozzie and Harriet like home is unrealistic, yet she admits that ideal is fueling her feelings of inadequacy. For example, she wants her family to sit down together and enjoy a nutritious meal together every night, but she doesn’t like to cook. That means she often finds herself preparing foods like oatmeal for herself and her husband and opening canned ravioli for her son.

To help Hazelton get past these feelings of inadequacy, Vogt wants her to focus on what is important–like being together as a family for dinner rather than what’s being served. (And for the record, Vogt says oatmeal is just fine.) Adding stressful obligations like cooking only detracts from being together.

Also, Hazelton is fortunate to have resources from her income as a lawyer, so Vogt urges her to hire others to help with other household projects like painting or decorating. “Even if you had unlimited money, you still do not have unlimited time. There are only 24 hours in a day. You have to slice some things off of it.”

Finally, Vogt wants Hazelton to bask in the positive influence she is having on her child by educating herself, working hard and making partner.

“I really believe that the best thing you can do for your children is to show them what it means to be a responsible adult.”

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The Ages and Stages of Work Life Balance

  1. View your life in stages. Determine where you are at this stage in your life, and estimate how long the stage will last.

  2. Define your needs. Take an objective look at what will ease your stress and get you through the current stage of your life.

  3. Use your resources. Hire someone to help you get through your day, whether it’s a baby sitter, driver or personal shopper.

  4. Be happy with your choices. Don’t compare your situation to anyone else’s. No two situations are ever alike, and no one solution works for everyone.

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